Showing that Italy cares about the emigration experience
The testimonies of Italian emigration to America (and to the world) are not just in the cities and in the countries where the lives of those who left developed after they landed. Even in Italy there is a (yet too small) network of museums regarding this topic, with an excellence standing: the Regional Museum of Emigration Pietro Conti in Gualdo Tadino, in the beautiful Umbria, a hidden gem far from the big cities and from the most crowded places from where the majority of our fellow Italians boarded, but therefore capable of stirring emotions and tell some really interesting stories.
At the head of the museum, another surprise, there is one person who to the necessary understanding of these issues adds the fact of being a young, smart and beautiful woman: Catia Monacelli. Hers is, among other initiatives, the idea of the video contest Memorie Migranti, celebrating the tenth edition this year, with the awards ceremony to be held Saturday, April 12 in Gualdo Tadino. I’ve had the privilege and honor to serve on the jury of this year’s edition of the contest: and it is with great pleasure that this column hosts Catia Monacelli, representing the Italy that has not forgotten our fellow Italians who left our country in search of fortune.
Catia, unfortunately is hard to find women at the head of major cultural institutions in Italy. Tell us a bit about you, such a pleasant exception
At 27 I already was director of the Regional Museum of Emigration Pietro Conti and of the Study Centre on Italian Emigration: I personally helped to establish the museum, after a period of research and documentation on the field. In 2011 I received the “Globo Tricolore”, an important recognition given to those who stood out for research about the Italians abroad. I am part of a team of researchers which on behalf of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has realized the National Museum of Emigration in Rome, at the Vittoriano monument. Today my job is to manage cultural goods and services, and in addition of being the director of the Museum of Emigration, I am also a scholar of contemporary art and, always in the beautiful Umbria, I am the director of the Museum Centre of Gualdo Tadino, area manager for the Diocesan Museum and Director of the Bargello Palace (Palazzo del Bargello) in Gubbio. Actually, it is already a long career, started when I was very young, right after my degree in Literature.
The Regional Museum of Emigration is dedicated to the memory of Pietro Conti. Tell us something about him and why the museum has his name?
Pietro Conti was the first President of the Umbria Region and worked a lot in favor of the Italians abroad. Therefore, when in 2003 he inaugurated the museum, the city of Gualdo Tadino, together with the region, decided to name it after him. The Museum was created to emphasize the historical, cultural and human migration linked to the great exodus that involved Italy from the end of the nineteenth century, concerning more than 27 million people. In this context, the impact of the Umbrian population, initially not that strong, became relevant since the early years of the twentieth century, up to the 7th place in the period from 1911 to 1913 in the list of regions with the highest emigration. Gualdo Tadino, along with the towns in the Apennines, is the protagonist of this important historical human event.
Hundreds of documents, pictures and stories from all regions of Italy are kept in the museum, all together to tell one big Italian story: goodbyes, the meeting and the confrontation with the foreign country, homesickness, daily joys and sorrows, integration into the new reality, defeats and victories, the discussion and the impact with tiday’s immigration. A choral journey that has as its protagonist the emigrant.
On April 12 in Gualdo Tadino the tenth edition of the Memorie Migranti Video Contest will see the final celebration, awarding the winner. When was the contest born, and for what purpose?
The project began in 2004 with the firm intention to recollect the testimonies of those who have experienced first hand the story of Italian emigration abroad, especially when emigrating was not a choice, but the only possible way to survive. Once upon a time, there was a say: “emigrante o brigante” (either emigrant or bandit). Over the years, this contest has grown very much, transforming our study center in one of the most important international references on the subject of Italian emigration abroad. We have public and private stories that are interwoven in the videos which show the extraordinary entrepreneurial Italian spirit.
Umbria is a land of emigration. Is there a place in the United States where people with Umbrian heritage is particularly present?
Actually, people who left Umbria have mainly settled in North America. Emigration from Umbria has consistently followed the migratory flows linked to the work in the mines: because of that, a substantial number of people from my region moved to Pennsylvania, and in particular in mining areas including Jessup, Old Forge and West Pittston.
Your museum has many activities …
The Emigration Museum publishes annual volumes of the series “I Quaderni del Museo dell’Emigrazione” (The Papers of the Museum of Emigration). It has a library that contains texts and research on the subject, an archive for documents and photos, an internationally recognized audio and video library. It is an “alive” and “multi-purpose” museum, not only guardian and container of memory, but also a place dedicated to educational workshops for schools of all levels. Students are given the opportunity to take advantage of the several workshops: during the entire school year it is possible to carry out research, for example by adhering to the Memorie Migranti contest, for the production of short films on the theme of emigration. The museum is also a permanent research Centre which analyzes the various aspects of the Italian emigration, a symbol for the whole region and an important stage of a journey into the culture of Umbria.
Do you have an interesting anecdote or a particularly story among those told in the museum or in your publications, regarding someone who emigrated to the United States?
Between the various letters and stories, in the museum we report the now famous phrase of an Italian immigrant in the United States: “I came to America because I was told that the streets were paved with gold. When I arrived I discovered three things: first, that the streets were not paved with gold; second, that the streets were not paved at all; third, I was the one who had to pave them”.